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EU Policy. Commission hopeful of achieving cancer code despite setbacks

Commissioner Kyriakides during an event on cancer survivorship in Brussels.
Commissioner Kyriakides during an event on cancer survivorship in Brussels. Copyright Christophe Licoppe/ EC - Audiovisual Service
Copyright Christophe Licoppe/ EC - Audiovisual Service
By Marta Iraola Iribarren
Published on
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The European Commission is confident it can create an EU Code of Conduct to guarantee equal access to financial services for cancer survivors despite patchwork approaches from the health and financial sectors, though its original timeline for doing so has slipped.

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With new advances in medicine that help with early diagnosis and innovative treatments, the survival rate for people diagnosed with cancer has radically improved in recent years.

The Commission intended to publish a European Code - in cooperation with health stakeholders - in March this year to ensure that developments in cancer treatments are reflected in the practices of financial service providers to ensure that only necessary and proportionate information is used to assess the eligibility of applicants for financial products.

Such a code would prohibit any differentiation between former oncological patients when contracting any financial service and it would not be mandatory to disclose previous cancer diagnoses.

But conversations between health and finance stakeholders about the content of such a code are still ongoing.

While presenting the EU executive's Communication on the European Health Union this week, Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said that there has been “significant progress” in the conversations, but that there was still no concrete deadline for publishing the Code.

The Code is one of the initiatives under the EU Beating Cancer Plan, one of the key health initiatives of the European Commission during this mandate.

The initiative has met with resistance from the insurance sector. John Turner, the head of life & health underwriting at reinsurer Swiss Re, told an event on cancer survivorship earlier this month that not every patient has the same risk profile, depending on the type of cancer, the stage at the time of diagnosis, age and underlying conditions of the person and many other variables.

Since cancer is the primary cause of claims in the insurance mortality portfolio, he added that the model would be threatened if reinsurers were unable to account for the risks.

Mairead McGuiness, European Commissioner in charge of financial services, said during the same event that insurer's risk assessments should reflect medical and scientific progress.

McGuiness said that the Code would also set out a clear commitment by insurers to ignore the cancer history of an applicant after a certain time.

“We could put that [the code] in place now. And it could start having an impact now,” she said.

Only eight countries – Belgium, Cyprus, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, and Spain - have legislation in place to guaranteeing a right for cancer history to be forgotten after a fixed period. Four other countries work with a national code of conduct.

The number of years before a condition is considered 'forgotten' varies: ten years applies in Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Portugal; eight in Belgium; seven in Romania, and five years in France and Spain.

The Commission is seeking a maximum time of five years for inclusion in the Code.

In 2020, 23.7 million people were living following a cancer diagnosis in Europe, 41% more than a decade before.

Of those, more than 20 million people, between six and nine million are very long-term survivors, meaning that their diagnoses were more than ten years ago.

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